Bonaventura Kevin Satria
Confronting the Unknowable

Thesis Supervisor: A/P Tsuto Sakamoto

SiteSidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia

In 2006, a massive mud eruption occurred in Sidoarjo, Indonesia. The largest mudflow of its kind, it has swallowed 12 villages and displaced more than 60,000 people. Until today, there has been no consensus regarding its cause; residents blamed the gas company for causing the eruption while the gas company denied the accusation, claiming that it was naturally induced. Yet, despite the contestation, the mudflow remains active and its activity could escalate anytime. This has caused people in the surrounding area to live in constant fear.

The thesis proposes that in order to subsume people’s fear, they need to prepare for the worst through the excavation of grounds surrounding their settlement. However, as these pits will remain empty for an unknown period of time, different parties will inevitably try to exploit the situation. Political exchange among the three main actors—residents, gas company and government—will take place in the form of compensation. The gas company will be allowed to conduct drilling operations in the pit in return for funding the excavation while rice terraces will be created for residents to compensate their loss of agricultural land. Soon, a new form of economy will emerge within the pit. A series of temporary and permanent structures will be constructed on the pit slopes. However, these processes are always expressed with a certain fear of not knowing what is going to happen as the mud flood can inundate these structures anytime.

Contestation of narratives

Given the unknowable nature of the mudflow, people have been trying to give name and meaning to it according to their vested interests. This has caused major conflicts among the involved parties over the years. Yet, none of these narratives is sufficient to release them from disturbance.

Manifestation of fear

Excavation of pits becomes the manifestation of people’s fear. Maximum amount of soil has to be dug out to optimise the pit’s capacity. Meanwhile, belts of rice terraces will be created around the periphery of the existing villages. They also serve as physical barriers against the mudflow.

New economy

While the pits are empty, new businesses will emerge on the slopes to boost the village economy. However, shops located at the bottom will be built using cheaper, temporary materials due to fear of the mudflow. Only those located on top can afford to be built using more permanent materials. A series of cottages will be constructed on the upper part to take advantage of the scenic view of rice terraces and accommodate tourists.

Gradual disappearance

As the mudflow comes and fills up the pit, these structures will soon disappear one by one. People’s daily activities have to keep being terminated here and there. Losing is inevitable. At the same time, these submerged structures eventually serve as a totem--a physical reminder of what used to be there.